WENTWORTH — On Valentine’s Day, a gunman, equipped with an AR-15, walked into Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, pulled the fire alarm and began firing into the crowd, according to reports.
In the wake of the shooting’s 17 deaths, students across the country began to protest through the National School Walkout movement which has now reached Rockingham County.
Rockingham County High School junior Skyler O’Neal and her friends were inspired when they saw a tweet on Twitter about the protests popping up across the country advocating for stricter gun legislation.
“I've always been mildly interested but I've never felt the need to stand up about it until recently when I discovered that no one's doing a lot about it and I thought that if students, if teenagers were the ones who started standing up for it, then maybe that would raise some awareness for, 'Hey, we're in fear for our lives. Please do something about it,’” O’Neal said.
By Feb. 23, O’Neal and a group of her friends had worked up a plan.
O’Neal created the RCHSSchoolWalkout Instagram page and made the group’s first post announcing the walkout set for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Other students began to spread the word through both Instagram and Twitter.
O’Neal expects that every person participating in the walkout will come with different views.
“I think it’s important for people to know that we're not doing it to cause a scene,” O’Neal said. “We're not doing it because we want to skip class. We're not doing it for any of those reasons. We're doing it because we personally feel like our life and our liberties are at risk because of all of the violence that's happening in the United States right now and we just want to raise awareness for the fact that if we don’t do something to enact a positive change, then more kids are going to be at risk.”
She added that she believes in stricter background checks, stronger enforcement of background checks already in place and raising the legal age to purchase guns to 21.
“I just would like to see legislators make certain policies that would make it more difficult for people like Nikolas Cruz to get their hands on any type of weapons whether they be AR-15s or just a regular handgun,” O’Neal said.
Already, members of the group anticipate that some teachers will oppose the walkout.
“Some of the teachers that have spoken to me have been relatively supportive about it, but I'm sure that there are many teachers that are against it,” O’Neal said. “I'm sure there's going to be a lot of angry teachers and we're probably going to face a lot of backlash for it and we understand that, but our reasons for doing it feel justified.”
Organizers are not yet sure how many students will participate, but they have already reached out and inspired another student walkout at Reidsville High School.
RCHS students plan to meet at the cougar paws in front of the school at 11:35 a.m., the beginning of third period, on Friday, April 20.
More information is available at act.indivisible.org/event/national-school-walkout/8601/ and the RCHSSchoolWalkout Instagram page.